A Simple, Easy To Use ESP32 Dev Board

The ESP32 is Espressif’s follow-up to their extraordinarily popular ESP8266 WiFi chip. It has a dual-core, 32-bit processor, WiFi, Bluetooth, ADCs, DACs, CAN, a Hall effect sensor, an Ethernet MAC, and a whole bunch of other goodies that make this chip the brains for the Internet of Everything. Everyone has been able to simply buy an ESP32 for a few months now, but the Hackaday tip line isn’t exactly overflowing with projects and products built around this wonderchip. Perhaps we need an ESP32 dev board or something.

The Hornbill is the latest crowdfunding campaign from CrowdSupply. It’s an ESP32 dev board, packed with the latest goodies, a single cell LiPo charger, and a USB to serial chip that will probably work with most operating systems. The Hornbill comes in two varieties, a breadboardable module, with a breakout board that includes an SD card slot, sensors, an RGB LED, and a bunch of prototyping space. The second version is something like an Adafruit Flora with big pads for alligator clips.

While this isn’t the first ESP32 breakout we’ve seen — Adafruit, Sparkfun, and a hundred factories in China are pumping boards with this chip out — it is a very easy and inexpensive way to get into the ESP32 ecosystem.

IOT Startup Bricks Customers Garage Door Intentionally

Internet of Things startup Garadget remotely bricked an unhappy customer’s WiFi garage door for giving a bad Amazon review and being rude to company reps. Garadget device owner [Robert Martin] found out the hard way how quickly the device can turn a door into a wall. After leaving a negative Amazon review, and starting a thread on Garadget’s support forum complaining the device didn’t work with his iPhone, Martin was banned from the forum until December 27, 2019 for his choice of words and was told his comments and bad Amazon review had convinced Garadget staff to ban his device from their servers.

The response was not what you would expect a community-funded startup. “Technically there is no bricking, though,” the rep replied. “No changes are made to the hardware or the firmware of the device, just denied use of company servers.” Tell that to [Robert] who can’t get into his garage.

This caused some discontent amoung other customers wondering if it was just a matter of time before more paying customers are subjected to this outlandish treatment. The Register asked Garadget’s founder [Denis Grisak] about the situation, his response is quoted below.

 It was a Bad PR Move, Martin has now had his server connection restored, and the IOT upstart has posted a public statement on the matter.– Garadget

This whole debacle brings us to the conclusion that the IoT boom has a lot of issues ahead that need to be straightened out especially when it comes to ethics and security. It’s bad enough to have to deal with the vagaries of IoT Security and companies who shut down their products because they’re just not making enough money. Now we have to worry about using “cloud” services because the people who own the little fluffy computers could just be jerks.

This Vacuum Former Sucks

Vacuum formers are useful tools to have around the shop and also an incredibly simple technology. All you need is a plastic sheet, a heater of some kind, a table with a bunch of holes in it, and a vacuum. The simplicity and usefulness of a vacuum former mean they’re perfect for a homebrew build. That said, we haven’t seen many DIY vacuum formers around the Interwebs. Now, there’s a Kickstarter that brings vacuum forming to the desktop. If nothing else, it’s an inspiration to build your own vacuum forming machine.

The Vaquform is pretty much what you would expect from a desktop vacuum forming machine. A 9 x 12 inch forming area is equipped with ceramic heaters to soften the plastic sheet, and interestingly, an infrared probe (think a non-contact digital thermometer) to ensure you’re pulling molds when the plastic is ready, not before.

You can’t push a Kickstarter without some new and novel technology, and the highlight of this product pitch is the Vaquform hybrid system vacuum pump. This vacuum pump, “combines high airflow and high vacuum” and looks like someone slapped a brushless motor on a turbo.

This is a Kickstarter campaign, and so far it appears Vaquform, the company behind this vacuum former, appears to only have prototypes. There’s a big difference between building one of something and building a hundred. As with all Kickstarter campaigns, ‘caveat emptor’ doesn’t apply because ēmptor means ‘buyer’. If you contribute to this Kickstarter campaign, you are not buying anything.

Even though this is a Kickstarter campaign, it is an interesting tool to have around the workshop. Of course, there’s not much to a vacuum former, and we’d be very interested in seeing what kind of vacuum former builds the Hackaday community has already made. Send those in on the tip line.

The Onion Omega2: The Latest Router Dev Board

A few years ago, the best way to put a device or project online was by hacking a router. With an inconspicuous Linksys WRT54G held onto a project with baling wire, anything can connect to the Internet. A lot has changed in a few years, and now those routers are development boards themselves. The latest of these is the Onion Omega2, a follow-up crowdfunding campaign to the very popular original Omega. Now, this tiny dev board is faster, more capable, and now it’s giving the Raspberry Pi Zero a run for its money.

The original Onion Omega was released last year with specs you would expect from an Internet of Things development board designed upon a chip for a cheap router. The original Onion used an Atheros AR9331 SOC running at 400 MHZ, had 64MB of RAM and 16MB of storage – enough to run a lightweight Linux distro – and also included USB, 802.11b/g/n, and a handful of GPIOs and a single UART. The Omega2 is a vast improvement over the original Omega, featuring a CPU that is 45% faster. The upgraded version of the Omega sports twice as much RAM, twice as much storage, and a MicroSD slot. This enables some Linux distros with a little more oomph behind them, and of course the SD card allows for local storage.

The original Onion Omega was funded through a crowdfunding campaign, with a single Onion Omega and dock available for a pledge of $19. Taking a lesson from the C.H.I.P. and the Pi Zero, the team at Onion have slashed the price. The Omega2 is only five dollars. If you want more RAM, storage, and an SD card socket, that price goes up to $9 USD. That’s amazing, and just goes to show how far hardware designed to service the Internet of Things has come in just a few short years.

Why Kickstarter Products Fail

It seems every week we report on Kickstarter campaigns that fail in extraordinary fashion. And yet there are templates for their failure; stories that are told and retold. These stereotypical faceplants can be avoided. And they are of course not limited to Kickstarter, but apply to all Crowd Funding platforms. Let me list the many failure modes of crowdfunding a product. Learn from these tropes and maybe we can break out of this cycle of despair.

Failure Out of the Gate

You don’t hear about these failures, and that’s the point. These are crowd funded projects that launch into the abyss and don’t get any wings through printed word or exposure. They may have a stellar product, an impressive engineering team, and a 100% likelihood of being able to deliver, but the project doesn’t get noticed and it dies. Coolest Cooler, the project that raised $13 million, failed miserably the first time they ran a campaign. It was the second attempt that got traction.

The solution is to have a mailing list of interested people are ready to purchase the moment you launch, and share to everyone they know. Reach out to blogs and news organizations a month early with a press package and a pitch catered to their specific audience. Press releases get tossed. Have a good reason why this thing is relevant to their audience. Offer an exclusive to a big news site that is your target market.

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SEC Allows Crowdfunding

Kickstarter is not an investment, and no matter how many times this is repeated, you’ll find the phrase ‘my investment’ in the comments section of nearly every failed Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or other crowdfunding campaign. These campaigns are more closely related to group buys, and you’ll never find a Kickstarter offering equity or any sort of return beyond the latest electronic bauble, indie game, or graphic novel. Sure, you may bootstrap a business with that pledge, but don’t expect dividends from Ouya or Pebble.

Now, this may finally change. The US Securities and Exchange Commission approved new rules for crowdfunding, allowing startups to raise money from Jane and Joe Internet.

Previously, angel investments, venture capital, and hedge funds were not for the common man; these were high-risk investments, and only accredited investors could participate in these funding rounds. Accredited investors, at least in the US, are individuals with a net worth of at least $1 Million, or an income greater than $200,000 in each of the previous two years. The reason for only allowing accredited investors – depending on your interpretation – is to protect consumers or to maintain a perverse oligarchy by installing a glass ceiling over the middle class. Either way, normal people couldn’t invest in high-risk investments until now.

Congress has seen fit to create a new class of investor, and pursuant to Title III of the JOBS Act, the SEC recently released the complete rules for crowdfunded investment. In a massive, 600-page tome, all the regulations are laid bare, ready for the next serial entrepreneur who seeks at most $1 Million in investment for their next startup.

Investors and Startups

The rules issued by the SEC immediately place some limitations on what can be done under the new regulations. For startups, a maximum of $1 Million can be raised over a 12-month period.

For investors with an annual income or a net worth of less than $100,000, a maximum of $2,000 or 5% of annual income can be invested, whichever is greater. For investors with an annual income or net worth greater than $100,000, 10% of their income or net worth can be invested, whichever is smaller.

Brokers and Funding Portals

Investors and entrepreneurs are not allowed to keep their transactions to themselves; this is the SEC after all. Transactions will go through registered broker-dealers or something called a ‘funding portal’. These funding portals are forbidden from offering advice, making recommendations, advertising, paying employees a commission, holding securities themselves, and the regulation bars directors, officers, and partners of the funding portal from holding investments using that funding portal’s services.

It’s The Complete Opposite of Kickstarter

Kickstarter was never known for its transparency. While the basic premise of crowdfunding the manufacturing of a few baubles or 3D printers is sound – it’s cheaper per unit to build a hundred of something than to build just one – the reality of actually building something meant Kickstarters failed – it’s exponentially harder to build ten thousand of something than it is to build a hundred. Add to this Kickstarter’s investments in campaigns featured on their website, and you have the recipe for practices that aren’t illegal but certainly don’t pass the sniff test.

The regulations put forth by the SEC turn the most common trope of the Internet economy on their head; companies responsible for bringing startups and investors together are not financially dependant on these startups. Companies can not raise more money than they could handle, and hopefully individual investors won’t take to crowdfunded companies like online poker and day trading.

Traditional crowdfunding has started a lot of great companies so far; the Form1 printer began as a crowdfunding campaign, and Reading Rainbow still lives thanks to a successful Kickstarter. With these new regulations come new possibilities for the latest startups, and more paths to success than a traditional angel investor or VC tycoon.

Amino Wants to Bring Bioengineering to Your Workbench

As the maker movement has exploded in popularity in recent years, there has been a strong push to put industrial tools into the hands of amateur tinkerers and hackers. CNC mills, 3D Printers, and laser cutters were all extremely expensive machines that were far too costly for most people until makers demanded them and hackers found ways to make them affordable. But, aside from the home brewing scene, those advancements haven’t really touched on anything organic. Which is a deficiency that Amino, a desktop bioengineering system, is seeking to address.

Amino, created by [Julie Legault], is currently seeking crowd-funding via Indiegogo. Hackaday readers are more suspicious than most when it comes to crowd-funding campaigns, and with good reason. But, [Julie Legault] has some very impressive credentials that lend her a great deal of credibility. She has four degrees in the arts and sciences, including a Masters of Science at the MIT Media Lab.

It was for that degree at MIT that [Julie] started Amino as her thesis. Her plan is to bring the tools necessary for bioengineering to the masses – tools which are traditionally only available in research labs. Those tools are packaged into a small desktop-sized unit called Amino. Backers will receive this desktop system, along with the supplies for their first project. Those projects are predefined, but the tools are versatile enough to allow users to move on to their own projects in the future. [Julie] thinks that the future is in bioengineering, and that the best way to feed innovation is to make the necessary tools both affordable and accessible.

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